Saturday, 5 July 2008

Words from Rob...

A few insightful and helpful words from Rob Van Beek, an artist - who also happens to be a manic depressive. I'd like to say thankyou to Rob for taking the time to put his thoughts down in writing...

"Discussing mental health opens up a whole range of issues about which there are a range of beliefs. I don't want to go over these.

The one area that I will say something about is the thing that is most relevant to me as an artist.

I have often had changes of belief due to my bi-polar disorder. In extreme circumstances I have believed things that were delusional.

There is an interesting philosophical question here about aesthetic beliefs or convictions when one is manic etc. If you are delusional does it follow that your aesthetic responses are mistaken or out of character too?

I have tended to find that manic experiences can have a strong aesthetic character and that even during depressive periods my basic aesthetic interests and dispositions remain the same.

This is what I sometimes think of a the 'Sane Beauty' thesis. We tend to think of facts and states of affairs as 'objective' and value judgments as 'subjective'. As one becomes more delusional I find ithe situation is reversed. Facts and states of affairs become more fluid, aesthetic properties like sensual, formal or symbolic properties become more solid and real.

I've thought about this a bit over the years. I think our aesthetic interest in the world is functional in infancy and in our early life. If the world did not appear interesting and attractive to newborn kids they wouldn't develop as rapidly as they do. Language, conceptualisation etc. comes later.

I think what might be going on is that as the bi-polar disorder takes hold then progressively less sophisticated behaviours are affected. First it is certain social skills that are affected, then conceptual coherence, ultimately perception, as you begin to hallucinate.

It think aesthetics are an indispensable part of the life of people (and some other animals). They orientate us towards the world, encourage personal discovery. They are all the more important for being a rather 'primitive' and therefore core part of us. They are part of what defines us as individuals.

So, a few weeks ago I was held under the Mental Health Act on an acute ward. Have I experienced anything to change this overall picture?

I have often had to struggle with mood swings over the years but they are always slightly different. This one accelerated very quickly. It was my first hospitalisation for 18 years. The ward was chaotic and frightening. I was put on Haloperadol. My whole being shrank. But within days I was beginning to recover.

Now it is a few weeks down the line. I went through a bad patch of restlessness and anxiety. But now I'm 95% there. I'm a bit more anxious than usual but its okay. The weather is fine. I go to the pub in the evening with my partner and smoke a cigar. I go to the studio. I mess about on artreview. Basically life is good. I have come through one nasty episode. Lessons have been learnt.

What has been brought home to me is how quickly and how profoundly can we loose our normal conceptual grip on the world. But I think that only confirms what I knew before.

I suppose I see the mind and the brain in broadly materialist way. I'm happy to call what I have a disorder. I have an excellent relationship with my psychiatrist.

The important thing for me is to get on with living and appreciating life.

Hope that's of some use ROB"

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